Theatre Review: Shakespeare In Love at the Noel Coward Theatre

Many will already have seen the Oscar-winning film version of Shakespeare in Love by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, starring Joseph Fiennes.

Now a fantastic new stage adaptation has opened at the Noel Coward Theatre.

Promising young playwright Will Shakespeare is tormented by writer’s block until he finds his muse in the form of passionate noblewoman, Viola De Lesseps.

Meanwhile he is unaware that Viola, herself in love with the theatre, has contrived to spend time with him by disguising herself as a boy actor in his company. Their forbidden love draws many others, including Queen Elizabeth, into the drama and inspires Will to write the greatest love story of all time, Romeo and Juliet.

Lee Hall, known for his Billy Elliot, has adapted the original screenplay for the stage, but has remained broadly faithful to the original. And the story is given a fresh new lease of life by the staging of Declan Donnellan and the designs of Nick Ormerod, which provide an Elizabethan playhouse as a back-drop for the scenes.

There is a huge cast of 28 actors and musicians, as well as a crowd-pleaser of a dog that has a key part to play. Together they take you back to Shakespeare’s London, teeming with vibrant colours, characters, music and life.

Tom Bateman plays the impetuous and love-struck young Shakespeare with aplomb and Lucy Briggs-Owen gives a beautiful and determined performance as Viola. David Oakes is splendid as Will’s friend and fellow playwright, Christopher Marlowe, who helps with Will’s writer’s block and his attempts to woo Viola.

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The play is half an hour too long, but the fast pace keeps you interested and there are laughs aplenty. A passionate love story with witty banter throughout, this is great fun and one not to miss.

Four out of five stars